Carolee Coleman, LCPC
Why Mindfulness Doesn’t mean Meditation and How it May Help with Anxiety
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Sometimes people hear the term “mindfulness” and think, “That’s not for me, I don’t like meditation”. Mindfulness is not the same as meditation but often go hand in hand. You can practice mindfulness without practicing meditation. One of my favorite mindfulness teachers, Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as “[The] awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”. Sounds simple, right? So, what’s the hang-up and what does this definition even mean? Let’s break it down.
Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment… Well, this sounds great, but I can think of some potential roadblocks to this. In the United States, we, in- general, have been raised in a very busy, fast-paced culture. Busy-ness is very often valued as a thing to aspire to. Subsequently, our attention may be constantly outside of the present moment and directed to completing a task solely to get to the next one in effort to meet all the demands of the many roles seemingly required, AND it is common for people to not feel valuable unless being productive. (I need a nap after typing that, and relaxation technique. Phew!) With this as the underlying goal (conscious or not…and often not), who has time to take a breath and check in to what is happening in the mind and body?
Other roadblocks can include living with trauma responses, which can manifest in different ways and may include anxiety, depression, and symptoms that mirror ADHD, or any of these things separate from trauma. Each of these can impact one’s ability to pay attention on purpose.
Non-judgmentally- Y’all- This can be tough. In my last blog I wrote about the inner critic. This, often harsh, part of us makes it their life’s work to judge. If you have a strong inner critic, check out that blog for the first step to silencing them and information about why research says self-compassion is a better bet.
So, what the heck do you do about these roadblocks? Start exactly where you are. Anxious? Depressed? Busy and focused on the next goal? Pay attention, right now to the thoughts and body sensations associated with any one of these experiences. Are your thoughts racing? What is the quality of those thoughts? Does your body feel tense? Where? Shoulders? Chest? Throat? Behind the eyes? Is there pain?
Just notice. Now, consciously do not fight the feelings or thoughts, just observe. You may even feel the urge to take a deep breath and release some of that tension. You go girl. You inhale and exhale like a badass!
Well, would you look at that! You just practiced mindfulness. Plot twist-the roadblocks aren’t actually roadblocks. They are the place to start and are just another part of you that wants a little attention, without judgment and they often calm down when you give it to them, just like an unruly toddler. A really great thing about mindfulness, is that you can really practice anywhere. In the car, on a walk, at the office, in the midst of navigating an actual toddler meltdown. You can do this.
How can this help with anxiety, you ask? If you are in the grips of heavy anxiety, this may not be the time to practice this, you may want to focus on grounding techniques. These will help “regulate your nervous system” quickly or (put another way) -calm yourself down. Practicing mindfulness can increase your awareness of your experience. One benefit to this is that you become more sensitive to the shifts in your emotion, allowing you to intervene in the moment, or at least before total burnout or panic. Also, you may become more aware of your triggers, empowering you to seek ways to avoid them, stop them, or increase your tolerance to them depending on what is most appropriate and realistic.
If you feel like exploring some more specific activities that are designed to increase your ability to be mindful, follow this link.
Photo by: Bekky Bekks (@bekkybekks) | Unsplash Photo Community